Study: Lung Screening Could Prevent 12,000 Deaths

Researchers from the American Cancer Society have found that screening all former and current smokers who fall within guideline recommendations could prevent up to 12,000 lung cancer deaths a year in the US. This number is based on the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST), which found that heavy smokers who got low-dose computed tomography (CT) scans had a 20% lower chance of dying from lung cancer than those who got chest x-rays.

The new study, published Feb. 25, 2013 in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, estimated that 8.6 million Americans met the NLST criteria for lung cancer screening in 2010. The NLST included more than 50,000 people aged 55 to 74 who were current or former smokers with at least a 30 pack-year history of smoking (equal to smoking a pack a day for 30 years, or 2 packs a day for 15 years). When the researchers combined their estimate with information on lung cancer death rates, they calculated that if all eligible Americans received low-dose CT screening, approximately 12,000 lung cancer deaths would be delayed or prevented each year.

“Our findings provide a better understanding of the national-level impact of [low-dose CT] screening, which has the potential to save thousands of lives per year,” said Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, PhD, one of the study’s authors.

Lung Cancer Screening Guidelines

The American Cancer Society recently published new lung cancer screening guidelines, which it based on the NLST and other studies that looked at low-dose CT screening. The guidelines recommend doctors discuss low-dose CT with patients at high risk for lung cancer—those who meet the same criteria used in the NLST study.

The criteria are in place to balance the benefits and risks of screening. Low-dose CT, like other screening tests, can potentially find cancer early, when it’s easier to treat. But the scans also find a lot of abnormalities that eventually turn out not to be cancer. Checking them out may lead to additional scans, more-invasive tests, or even surgery that sometimes harms people who didn’t have cancer in the first place. These risks may outweigh the benefit of screening for everyone except those at higher than average risk for lung cancer, such as heavy smokers.

Screening, however, is not a substitute for quitting smoking. The most effective way anyone can reduce their risk of lung cancer is to avoid tobacco. If you smoke and want help quitting, see the American Cancer Society Guide to Quitting Smoking or call us at 1-800-227-2345.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Annual Number of Lung Cancer Deaths Potentially Avertable by Screening in the United States. Published February 25, 2013 in CANCER. First author: Jiemin Ma, PhD, MHS, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.

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